Book Reviews [16]

By Patrick Dibben and Bruce Easton

The Happy Isles of Oceania by Paul Theroux

Review by Patrick Dibben

I first spotted this book when I saw a fellow paddler reading it at one of our weekend paddles down at Murramarang. It covers Paul Theroux’s journey through the Pacific, from New Zealand then on to Australia, the Trobriands (PNG), The Solomons, Vanuatu, Fiji, Tonga, American Samoa, Western Samoa, Tahiti, The Marquesas, The Cook Islands, Easter Island and Hawaii. No he didn’t paddle all the way but he did do quite a bit of paddling.

I had never read anything by Paul Theroux and after having a quick peruse I decided I never would. Theroux came across as a rude, winging, negative, cranky, old bugger with not much good to say about anyone – especially Australians and New Zealanders – at least the white fellas.

Somehow I ended up buying a copy anyway. Friends insisted it was really quite good and it IS about sea kayaking the Pacific.

Paul Theroux IS a whinging, cranky old bugger but only most the time. He really did get out the wrong side of bed or at least the wrong bed as he has just separated from his wife of many years. At one point he writes ‘Travel is very hard alone, but hardest of all when there is no one waiting for you to come back’. The back cover of his book has a quote from Time which describes his book as frequently hilarious – now this is hilarious!  Nevertheless, while I don’t think I ever warmed to Theroux’s personality I did get used to him or maybe I just didn’t notice him any longer and was absorbed in his fantastic voyage. The trip, even through his eyes, is still well worth taking.

I’ve travelled and paddled in some of the places he visited and his comments often rang true, I could relate to him, a bit like the way I can relate to Basil Fawlty. Maybe this would be hilarious if Theroux wasn’t real. He seems best when he is off paddling on his own away from annoying people and listening to his sports Walkman.

‘On this lovely morning in the lagoon of Aitutaki I was listening to Carmen Burana. It was one of those days – I passed many in Oceania – when I forgot all my cares, all my failures, all my anxieties about writing. I was exactly where I wanted to be, doing what I liked most. I was far enough offshore so that the island looked distant and mysterious and palmy, and I moved easily through the greeny-blue lagoon, and I could hear the surf pounding on the reef between the movements of music.’

I felt sorry for this old bugger at times and was glad to see him finding himself. I guess this was one of the sub-plots, his journey of the soul but then whose soul couldn’t do with a journey like this. I think I was jealous too. Towards the end of the book he writes:

Time passed – months. I was still in Hawaii, I had not left Oceania. I was paddling my collapsible boat, marvelling at the way its canvas hull had faded in the punishing sun. The place I had paddled to write about I was still paddling for pleasure .  Paddling had taken the place of writing. I thought about my book and then muttered, ‘Oh Never Mind’.

I guess he’s alright at times. It IS a good book and it IS well worth reading especially if you ever plan to paddle the Pacific. If you don’t have any such plans then maybe by the end of this book you will !

It’s available just about everywhere and the recommended retail price is $14.95.

The Australian Guide to Whale Watching

Reviewed by Bruce Easton

The Australian Guide to Whale Watching (includes dolphins) by Tina Dallon & Ross Isaacs was published in 1992 by Weldon Publishing ISBN 1 86302 215 5.

This paperback book with a number of colour and black & white photographs, plus illustrations should be of great interest to Sea Kayakers.

Often when paddling we see many things of interest. This book will prove to be a useful field guide. Chapter 3 which features locations in each state throughout Australia will be keenly read. included are migration dates plus numerous details on access, accommodation etc.

Whale watching is extremely popular with Sea Kayaking tour operators overseas but seems restricted to a small number of charter boat operators. Whilst canoes and kayaks are not mentioned, the chapter on tips & regulations are essential reading.

As the book says for the Sydney Section “Whale watching begins in June as the whales slowly make their way up the coast. Tours finish in late October.

Keep a look out for this excellent book & keep your eyes open, info line will keep you posted.